Weeks 25-28: The Great Inception Road Trip
As we said in our last blog post, we stayed in Phoenix for two different weeks a month apart. “But what happened in between?” you are probably wondering, helpfully.
“An adventure within an adventure,” we reply to your internal monologue, mysteriously. “Travels within travels. A road trip within a road trip.”
“That’s right: we incepted our road trip.”
We must go deeper.
The Best Laid Plans
Our Inception road trip started with us in Phoenix in mid-December. Our families live in Pittsburgh, Albany, Connecticut, and Long Island (among other places). Our thinking was basically this: instead of paying for expensive holiday plane tickets plus a rental car, or skipping out on our family and lazily hanging out in southern California for Christmas and New Year’s, let’s drive back to the Northeast!
Our plan was to travel light, move fast, and stop at a few places in the middle parts of the country we’d otherwise miss. So we further thought: since it’s so far and we want to save money, let’s drive back in our Honda Fit tow car because it gets great gas mileage, instead of in our large lumbering RV! Even though the RV is basically specifically designed for long-distance travel, and can store many useful things like “food” and “clothes.”
And that’s what we did. Let’s start with an initial observation: this was a terrible, terrible idea. The drive ended up being 6,742 miles in 25 days, and most of it was through the most mind-numbingly boring terrain possible. Q: How much of Oklahoma or Indiana do you want to see? A: not as much as there is.
Thank God for podcasts! Oh, and those cost savings? Yeah… about that. We actually spent far more on car repairs than we theoretically saved by driving.
But whatever. We got to see the world’s biggest mailbox.
Since we had basically nothing else to do, we documented our trip. We took photos from the passenger seat, roughly every hour (or whenever it looked cool), unless it was dark. From those photos, Heather made the awesome video above, hand-animating the locations and travel lines for your viewing pleasure.
As you can see in the video, while driving those 6,700 miles, we visited the following places:
Drive East: Phoenix -> El Paso, TX -> Roswell, NM -> Texas Panhandle -> Oklahoma City -> Nashville -> Memphis -> Pittsburgh
Holiday Social Travel: Pittsburgh (Christmas) -> Albany -> Long Island -> NYC -> Connecticut -> Boston (New Year’s Eve)
Drive West: Boston -> Pittsburgh -> St. Louis -> Kansas City -> Boulder, CO -> New Mexico -> Phoenix
Yes, it was a lot. As we mentioned, this was a terrible idea. A big thank you to all the friends and family who let us crash with them overnight.
Also, you may notice we cleverly left ourselves in Boston for New Year’s, making the drive back as inhumanly long as possible. S-M-R-T smart
Since we (Jake) are (Jake) nerds (Jake), we went beyond photographs, and kept a few stats during our trip. Here’s what we’ve got. All these numbers are from December 2015/January 2016:
- Unique overnight locations: 13 (Pittsburgh twice)
- Longest stretch of straight road: A mind-blowing 28 miles without a curve in New Mexico, north of El Paso
- Construction zones: 63 (immediately regretted tracking these)
- Earliest advertisement: “The Thing”, 106 miles in advance
- Tumbleweeds: 0 (unexpected result)
- Animals in road: 2 (cat, German shepherd)
- Times we cursed our decision not to fly: too many to count
We also tracked our gas consumption:
- Fill-ups: 27, for a total of roughly 209 gallons (avg 32.2 mpg – despite some engine troubles)
- Best MPG: 41.3 (Alamogordo, NM to Friona, TX)
- Cheapest gas: $1.57, in Hereford, Texas (if you like cows and low prices, this is the place to be)
- Total gas cost: $424 (median price $1.93)
- Number of times a gentleman kindly but confusingly paid for our gas: 1 (Pueblo, CO)
And finally, a few photo/video statistics:
- Number of photos taken: 1,268
- Number of photos used: 210
- Number of those photos borrowed from Google Street View: 10
- Days spent making: no comment
Dispatches From The Road
Since we are professional road-trippers, you won’t be surprised to learn we stopped to sightsee a few times along the way. There’s a lot to get through here, so we’ve tried to slim it down; we’re not going to bore you with an account of, like, the sandwich and beef jerky store we went to in Oklahoma (literally the only non-fast food or chain restaurant within 60 miles). Oops, guess we just did that anyway!
After staying overnight in El Paso, we drove northeast to Roswell, New Mexico. The drive to Roswell was beautiful, going up and over some mountains covered with snow-covered pines. (New Mexico always surprises.) We have heard Roswell itself is a cool, artsy town given a bad rap by the ridiculous UFO tourism. But like a government spokesperson, we can neither confirm nor deny those rumors, since we just went for the ridiculous UFO tourism. A warehouse full of fake alien scenes you can take pictures with? Yes, please!
A+++, would pose with aliens again.
Oklahoma City Memorial
We stayed overnight in the Texas panhandle, where literally the only restaurants were steakhouses. Two in our tiny town; four in the next town over. So, we got some steaks (kinda “meh”).
We stopped the next day at the Oklahoma City bombing memorial. It is a touching memorial: sad but serene, painful yet beautiful, and a reminder that extremism takes many forms.
We were quiet in the car for a while afterwards.
Memphis & Nashville
As a reward for three straight days of driving, we treated ourselves to nights out in Memphis and Nashville. Both cities are legendary for their live music scene, but both were pretty quiet when we were there. In fairness, it was 40 degrees out, and for Nashville, a Sunday night. We also treated ourselves to some amazing hot chicken, a fried & spicy local delicacy.
We skipped Graceland because of its unreasonable ticket prices, but we did check out one Tennessee attraction. The Memphis Pyramid was built in 1991 as a sports arena and entertainment venue, and it’s huge: the 10th largest pyramid in the world.
Although it used to be home to basketball teams including the Memphis Grizzlies, it hasn’t been used for sports since 2004. Instead it has become… the biggest and weirdest Bass Pro Shop in the world.
It’s cavernously huge inside, although they tried their best to fill the space. There’s a hotel, restaurant, archery range, crocodile tank, bowling alley, observation deck, and much more, plus the usual assortment of outdoor clothing and merchandise. (They’re considering adding a zipline.) Bizarrely, the entire place is decorated as though it were in a forest, so you can shop for sunglasses beneath the judgmental eyes of a herd of taxidermied deer.
A+++, would avoid paying $130 at Graceland to wander around inside a giant pyramid again.
Friends and Family
We don’t need to go into the details of Christmas and New Year’s, except to say that it was great to see everyone again. Thanks again to everyone that let us stay with them! We traveled all over the Northeast, had lots of great food, and even successfully completed an Escape Room. (Sorry, El Pasoans.)
Casey At The Bat
On our return trip, after a quick layover in Pittsburgh, we headed west towards St. Louis. On our way there, we stopped to get gas in Casey, Illinois, a small town which turned out to have a big secret. While fueling up, we noticed a sign promising the “world’s largest windchime,” a short drive into the town. Since seeing the “World’s Largest X” is a staple of any road trip, of course we went to go check it out.
Well, the world’s largest wind chime was cool, but you know what was better? How about the world’s largest rocking chair, right across the street? And while we were admiring them both, an older gentleman advised us to go down the street a bit in the other direction. We then found the world’s largest mailbox, pencil, and birdcage.
Yes, Casey, Illinois has been living out a quixotic dream to become our favorite highway rest stop ever. They are officially the home to at least eight world-record “largest” objects, including a pitchfork, wooden clogs, golf tee, knitting needles, and crochet hook, with more planned.
A++++, best random roadtrip stop ever. Better crane your neck upwards now to save time!
St. Louis & Kansas City
We were treated to a beautiful sunset outside of Casey. That place never stops giving! The next morning, we did our best to see the St. Louis (“Gateway”) Arch. Unfortunately, the Arch is under construction at the base, so our shots had to be carefully framed. Also, it was freezing. But hey – at least there were no crowds!
We kept moving, and stopped for lunch at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, a multiple-award-winning rib joint famously located in a gas station mini-mart. That description is slightly misleading – it’s more like they share a parking lot – but holy crap, the ribs were amazing. The flavor was quite mild, but they were cooked to such tender perfection that our mouth is watering just thinking about it.
A+++, would eat way too much then slip into a food coma again.
Rocky Mountain High
Taking advantage of the time zone changes, we blasted through Kansas and made it in late to Boulder, Colorado, to see Jake’s sister Kate. We had a really good time, hiking, hanging out, and drinking plenty of beer, made all the more enjoyable due to the warm, sunny weather. “Hmm,” we thought, “maybe Colorado should be at the top of our ‘move-to’ list.”
Then, of course, the weather changed. Our plan called for us to head west over the mountains and see a National Park or two, maybe even the Grand Canyon, but the sudden snowfall made that impossible. We ended up having to stay an extra day (thanks Kate!), before we headed back to Phoenix via the “easy” route.
Of course, “easy” is relative here. We still had to slog through slush and snow on the highway, on tires we were later told were “almost completely bare.” Yikes! There was so much sand and dirt on the road, we went through nearly an entire container of windshield wiper fluid just to be able to see. But we eventually made it over the Raton Pass – at a mere 7,800 feet – and were soon in familiar territory near Albuquerque and Santa Fe. From there, it was smooth sailing.
After one last blast in the eyes from the Albuquerque sun, we spent the night in Gallup, New Mexico, where we had some pretty amazing Mexican food. Our last leg was in sight!
Since we had already traveled to Phoenix via Flagstaff, we took a different route, through Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto National Forests. It was a wise choice, as the road took us through a strikingly beautiful alpine forest, covered with feet of snow (thankfully not on the road this time). The experience reminded us once again that we know nothing about the geography of western states.
When we made it back, our RV was just as we left it. Except the battery had died after weeks of not being charged, which meant the fridge had stopped running (it can run on propane, but needs a trickle of battery power to work). Since the fridge stopped working, everything in our freezer had melted, leaving a disgusting soup of water, ravioli, potstickers, and of course, raw beef and chicken pieces. Which we had to slowly remove via a turkey baster.
Ah well. It’s like we always say: if your adventure doesn’t end with a disgusting soup of water, ravioli, potstickers, and raw beef and chicken, you haven’t been adventuring hard enough.
(Also, we need to borrow your turkey baster.)